Why Do We Wear Green on St. Patrick’s Day?

If you don't, you just might get pinched!
why green st. patrick's day
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Green clothes, green decorations, green beer, green doughnuts… It’s all green everything on St. Patrick’s Day. And everyone knows if you don’t wear green, you’re in danger of getting pinched! But protection from pinching isn’t the only reason you don green-colored clothing on this Irish holiday. The history of why you wear green on St. Patrick’s Day runs much deeper.

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There are many iterations of the story that binds the Irish, St. Patrick’s Day, and the color green, ranging in tone from decades of political revolt to myths of mischievous leprechauns. But here are a few of the more popular versions.

St. Patrick’s Day always occurs on March 17, the day many believe that St. Patrick, foremost patron saint of Ireland, died. One of the explanations for the sea of green you see every St. Patrick’s Day revolves around Saint Patrick himself. Legend has it, he used a shamrock (a plant that is, of course, green) to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish. There is no evidence to support this tale; but many works of art depicting Saint Patrick portray him with a cross in one hand and a sprig of shamrocks in the other.

saint patrick

Wikimedia Commons / Andreas F. Borchert

Saint Patrick was often portrayed with shamrocks in his hand. 

Another tale dates back to the early 1700s when, rumor has it, Irish Americans (who held some of the first St. Patrick’s Day parades and created many modern St. Patrick’s Day traditions) spread folklore about leprechauns. It was said that wearing green would make you invisible to the little conniving creatures — if you didn’t wear green, a leprechaun would jump out and pinch you. That's a tale we’d truly only believe after imbibing a few too many green colored cocktails. But it also helps to explain the pinching.

The color has quite the documented political history, as well. It was used as nationalistic representation for the Irish in quite a few revolts for independence, and now still remains as one of three colors in the Irish flag.

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One of the last theories says that the color is associated with Irish nationalism because of the nickname for Ireland, the “Emerald Isle.” Ireland got this name for its lush, green landscape — which, to this day, is really quite magical!